Users become experts in national project
With the requirements of web accessibility increasing, expertise is in high demand, and website owners struggle to get the support they need. At the same time, users with disabilities have lived experiences from the impact of inaccessible services, and unemployment in this target group is generally high. This sounds like an untapped resource – so we created a research project.
In the nationally funded project Users as experts, we have developed and piloted a one-year course in digital accessibility aimed at people with a wide range of disabilities (deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, motor impairments and cognitive impairments). The goal of the course is for the participants to be trained as user experts who can test and audit digital interfaces and communicate about problems and solutions for accessibility based on their own needs and experiences.
The course was divided into two semesters, where one semester aimed to enable the participants to become active users with the necessary knowledge and tools to provide constructive feedback regarding accessibility (an important part of the enforcement of the Web Accessibility Directive). The second semester went more in-depth into the web accessibility requirements, and the participants were trained to become user experts who can carry out testing and audits of web accessibility at a basic level.
The pilot course "Users as experts" was conducted as part of the special course at Furuboda folk high school during one academic year, fall semester 2021 - spring semester 2022. The course was conducted entirely on a remote basis with participants from all over the country. The course participants all had different needs for accessibility linked to impairments related to vision, hearing, cognition or motor skills. Out of a total of 14 course participants, 6 were women, 8 men.
The course was fully adapted to the digital format and the choice of digital education platform, video meeting platform, document types for study material and interpretation have been designed based on the participants' needs for accessibility. Personal mentor contact was also implemented to ensure support for planning, predictability and clarity in the studies.
At the end of the spring semester, the course participants carried out an internship with four public organizations at municipal and regional level. The students worked in groups to test and audit the organisations' websites on a number of points in the statutory requirements, then provided their feedback in written as well as oral form during digital workshops carried out with each organization individually.
The pilot training and the technical testing practice have produced very good results. The participants in the course are satisfied with both the content and the working method of the training. The public sector bodies whose digital services were audited from a user perspective are excited about the level of insight and claim to have learned many new things.
In addition to in-depth knowledge of web accessibility, the participants have expressed that they have gained a greater awareness of their own and others' needs regarding accessibility, tools to communicate and reflect on those needs, and strengthened confidence in their own abilities. The participants will be able to take the knowledge they have developed during the course with them in their future professional practice in various fields. In addition, they have shown interest in being part of a panel of user experts who can support public organizations in their accessibility work at professional level.
All the pilot organisations have already taken the insights from the tests into concrete measures regarding the accessibility of their websites and all are positive about the possibility of being able to consult user experts as part of the ordinary activities regarding accessibility in the future.
Financing: Vinnova (SE)
Project period: 2020 - 2022
Consortium: Furuboda (project leader), Funka, The Association for the Welfare of the Blind, IAAP Nordic, City of Gothenburg, City of Malmö, City of Mölndal and Mjölby municipality.
Budget: 350 000 EURO
The main objective of the project is to generate practical guidance for Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers on how to construct courses where lived experiences of persons at risk of exclusion can be transformed into skills that are sought after in the labour market. This is a concept that we refer to as ‘user expertise’.
People with disabilities in Sweden can now apply to become “user experts” in web accessibility. In cooperation with the folk high school Furuboda, and with funding from the innovation agency Vinnova, Funka has developed a ground-breaking training course.